Monday, March 14, 2011

Building Codes & the Quake

The news seems to get worse from Japan as the Death Toll Estimate Soars.  But it's still true that things could have been even worse if it had not been for Japan's careful land and development planning.  As James Glanz and Norimitsu Onishi reported in the New York Times, Japan's Strict Building Codes Saved Lives.  From the article:

Hidden inside the skeletons of high-rise towers, extra steel bracing, giant rubber pads and embedded hydraulic shock absorbers make modern Japanese buildings among the sturdiest in the world during a major earthquake. . . .

Unlike Haiti, where shoddy construction vastly increased the death toll last year, or China, where failure to follow construction codes worsened the death toll in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Japan enforces some of the world’s most stringent building codes. Japanese buildings tend to be much stiffer and stouter than similar structures in earthquake-prone areas in California as well, said Mr. Moehle, the Berkeley engineer: Japan’s building code allows for roughly half as much sway back and forth at the top of a high rise during a major quake.

So it's sad to contemplate but still probably true that the destruction and loss of life could have been much worse if not for the regulations.  Of course, these building codes have made development much more expensive; but the article goes on to note an interest twist in how this has played in the marketplace:

New apartment and office developments in Japan flaunt their seismic resistance as a marketing technique, a fact that has accelerated the use of the latest technologies, said Ronald O. Hamburger, a structural engineer in the civil engineering society and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a San Francisco engineering firm.

“You can increase the rents by providing a sort of warranty — ‘If you locate here you’ll be safe,’ ” Mr. Hamburger said.

In the meantime, it's a terrible disaster and we wish the best to the rescue and recovery efforts.  Thanks to James McKechnie for the pointer.

Matt Festa

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2011/03/building-codes-the-quake.html

Architecture, California, Coastal Regulation, Comparative Land Use, Development, Landlord-Tenant, Planning | Permalink

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